A fresh, well-written take on the lives of our presidents.

FIRST FRIENDS

THE POWERFUL, UNSUNG (AND UNELECTED) PEOPLE WHO SHAPED OUR PRESIDENTS

A Clinton administration insider delivers a fruitful survey of the roles that close friends have played throughout presidential history.

Ginsberg comes to his subject by way of a long-ago spell of volunteering for the presidential campaign of Gary Hart, who had one well-known confidant in actor Warren Beatty and a lesser-known one in old friend and chief of staff Billy Shore, who “seemed to be Hart’s alter ego, someone with the right combination of intensity yet inner calm to keep an often pensive candidate switched on.” So it is across the span of presidencies: Thomas Jefferson had his Billy Shore in fellow Virginian James Madison, who himself would become president but who contented himself in remaining in Jefferson’s shadow even as he made substantial contributions to the Constitution. Woodrow Wilson had his “First Friend,” as Ginsberg dubs the occupant of that unofficial but influential role, in a diminutive Texan named Edward Mandell House, whose views neatly aligned with Wilson’s in most regards and who hand-picked many of the players in the Wilson administration. So it was with Vernon Jordan, Bill Clinton’s closest friend, who served numerous functions, from helping select staff members to warding off a post–Lewinsky affair threat of divorce on the part of the first lady. Perhaps most affecting in this series of portraits is, curiously enough, Richard Nixon’s friendship with Bebe Rebozo, a Cuban exile and influential banker who was seemingly glad to play “a subservient role” but who also knew how to deal with Nixon’s dark moods. Ginsberg does nothing to improve Nixon’s reputation as he recounts how the president eventually brought the straight-arrow Rebozo into the criminal conspiracy that ended his tenure in the White House—with Rebozo urging Nixon not to resign until the very end. There’s no real thesis in Ginsberg’s capably spun story, but there are plentiful insights.

A fresh, well-written take on the lives of our presidents.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5387-0292-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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